Laura Lippman emailed me recently in response to a request I'd sent her for an opinion on subgenres in mystery writing. Her feeling is that it's useless to divide up reading into categories, and she has a point. As someone who even reads those cheerful little notes on cereal boxes, I can't claim to be a picky reader. Still, another writer, Julie Hyzy, made the point that readers want to know they're in for a good time before they plunk down their money. If noir depresses you, you're going to have no desire to finish a book where the world is gray quickly fading to black. If chick-lit makes you nauseous, you want to know which authors think high fashion and low morals make for a great beginning. We like categories because they help us avoid things we know don't interest us.
Still, Lippman's argument is worth considering. When an author sells books, she says, we as authors shouldn't feel jealous. We should instead wonder how we can get the people who bought that book to buy another -- and another. I have a couple of ideas.
First, when you finish a book that fulfills your requirements for good reading, write a review of it and post it on Amazon or other reader-friendly sites. It only takes a few minutes, and it gives people a human connection to the story, testifying that someone liked this book. In all likelihood, something you say will strike a chord one way or the other. If they decide not to buy, that prevents disappointment, so it's good. If it encourages a purchase, that's even better.
The other thing is to talk about books with people, especially young people. Enthusiasm for reading is sometimes slow to catch on, but once a person becomes a reader, he reads for the rest of his life. As a teacher, I consider that the greatest contribution I made to my students was encouraging them to read. I didn't care what they read; I just wanted them to enjoy it. You can't make another person love reading as much as you do, but talking about books is a great way to pique interest.
I consider it part of the writer's job: helping other writers by encouraging reading.